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DRUGS AND ALCOHOL:
Much Is Too Much?
by Jason Wittman,
MPS, Executive Director
Los Angeles Youth Supportive Services, Inc.
years of experience in the substance abuse field, I have finally decided
that there is a simple answer to the question of drugs and alcohol, how
much is too much? I will assume that a person asking this question of
how much is too much is one that is looking to optimize his or her potential
to grow emotionally and spiritually and to enjoy excellent mental health.
My answer, therefore, is an optimum one.
The simple answer is that even one could be too much. Alcohol and drugs
are attractive because of their abilities to, in various ways, ease people
through social and other situations, in lieu of having the experience
of walking and working through the fears of those situations and growing
from those experiences. The only thing learned, when using these substances
is that the cure for social ill-ease is using more of them.
I am sure that the majority of the people who use drugs and alcohol will
never become addicted to a point where they will need professional assistance.
I am just as sure that their emotional and social growth will be stunted
in proportion to the degree of use. Much of what I do when I am working
with former users, is to assist them to grow up emotionally. The rule
of thumb is that when they started to depend on drugs and alcohol, their
emotional growth stopped. If a person is now 38 years old and started
to use at seventeen, the chances are that that person is dealing with
the world from the emotional perspective of a seventeen year old. A disastrous
situation, for instance, if that person happens to be a father of three
or the CEO of a large corporation.
Everyone has the potential to be an addict or an alcoholic. Proclivity
has a lot more to do with environmental factors than genetic ones. By
environmental, I mean such things as how a person is taught as a child
to cope with life; if friends and associates encourage and approve of
use and abuse of mind altering substances; the frequency of opportunity
for use; and, most important, how they feel about themselves.
Very seldom, when listing to the life stories of recovering former addicts
and alcoholics, do I hear that they were addicted after the first experience.
They usually report that it was extremely pleasurable and that the usage
gradually increased until they crossed a line where stopping became a
difficult or impossible task. Where that line is, is impossible to predict
and is different for each person. What is insidious is that the process
happens so gradually that only in retrospect, after stopping, is it even
apparent that such a line even existed. This is why I believe that using
drugs and alcohol at any level, even "recreationally" can be the equivalent
of recreationally juggling dynamite.
My mind has been conducting a debate with itself as I have been writing
this article. The debate is between the part that cries out for a moderate
liberal stance and the absolutist part, which has been doing the writing
up to now. The liberal part argues that there is nothing wrong with having
an occasional glass of wine with dinner, or an occasional marijuana joint
after dinner or at a party, and that a person who might have a drink or
a joint once a week is running a very small risk of becoming an alcoholic
or a drug addict.
The absolutist part concedes that the chances are real slim. It then suggests
that if that occasional drink just happens to occur on "special occasions"
like dinner with an important client or that joint just happens to be
smoked when first getting to know a new love interest and that the drink
or joint sort of takes the edge of the tension of the moment, like its
supposed to, then, at the least, it is impeding the person's learning
how to relax and walk through such situations. At the worst, it is letting
the person's sub-conscious know of a really neat way of not having to
deal with similar tensions.
The sub-conscious does not know pasts and futures and just accumulates
experience in the present tense. For this reason, each of these "occasional
experiences" become an increasingly more powerful alternative solution
that the sub-conscious knows it can call on. For the person who ends up
as an alcoholic or an addict, the sub-conscious does call on that alternative
with increasing frequency, while justifying it, consciously, as "just
an occasional drink". That is what the process of denial is all about
.So the absolutist
part still insists that none is best and those who dabble infrequently
should still be aware of the risks.... I, the judge in this debate, matched
up the arguments with my experience and agree with the absolutist part.
I think it would be irresponsible to give anyone the assurance that alcohol
or drugs in any quantity is effect or risk free.
I also feel I need to point out that the infrequent users of marijuana
are probably at the greatest risk since it is unlikely that they will
just take one toke of the substance. They will, usually, smoke until the
euphoria is felt (usually referred to as "being stoned"). The equivalent
of this in drinking terms would be if the occasional drinkers drank until
they were drunk.
The euphoria of being stoned is a powerful experience for the sub-conscious.
What makes marijuana even more potentially addictive is that, since there
is little chance of there being any negative physical side effects, gradually
increased usage can be easily rationalized under the guise of fun or,
at least, the absence of any obvious negatives.
Marijuana is the only substance where people who are addicted to it have
no realization of just how much it controls their lives until they stop
using for a while and look backward. Marijuana addicts seem to themselves
to be operating super-functionally, when in fact the opposite is true.
As I stated in the beginning of the article, I am writing from the point
of view of how to get the most out of one's life experience. My bottom
line advice for the person who insists on using alcohol and/or drugs recreationally
is to be ruthlessly honest with themselves by doing the following self-test
at least once, preferably twice, a year: For a period of a month, abstain
from all mind-altering substances; drugs, alcohol, poppers, all of them,
while you carry on your life as usual. Go to your business lunches, your
first dates, your cocktail parties, do all the sex-type things you normally
do, and make that after dinner speech. The only thing that will be different
is that you will be doing everything without alcohol and/or drugs.
If your use of drugs and/or alcohol was strictly a recreational want and
not a need or dependence, then you will have found no difference in your
stress or tension level when you did all those activities drug and alcohol
free. If you experienced increased stress the tension, it is a sign that,
for the activities where the increases where noticed, you have been relying
on those substances to get you through. The more stress and tension noticed,
the more you were relying on them and the greater the risk of becoming
dependent on them. This gives you a way to decide for yourself what level
of useage is right for you. I am not saying "don't use", just keep your
eyes open to what is going on and then make your decisions.
If you could not stay alcohol and drug free for the entire length of the
test period, you either are, or are about to be in serious trouble. Incidentally,
if you are actually someone who is using mind-altering substances addictively
and has been denying to yourself that fact, your mind
will come up with all sorts of good reasons why it is O.K. to stop this
test prematurely or,
maybe even why there is no need to even take it in the first place. So,
for the purposes of this test, there is no valid reason to start using
your mind-altering goodies again before the entire period you committed
to, before the test started, is over. If you will not even consider taking
the abstinence test, you might already be in deep water.
It is my experience that people who are addicted to mind-altering substances
build huge walls of denial to rationalize their continued use. Occasionally,
addicts and alcoholics will have a moment if clarity, when it will become
obvious how addicted they really are. These moments sometimes occur immediately
following a particularly bad experience, such as an overdose. At other
times, it can be just a spontaneous insight after reading as article such
as this one. These moments of clarity are truly "moments" and if assistance
is not sought out quickly, the window of opportunity will slam shut as
the retionales and denials come flooding back in. If you can relate to
this last section, please seek assistance quickly for it might be a painfully
long time before your next opportunity. You can call your local Alcoholics
Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous,.Cocaine Anonymous, Crystal Meth Anonymous,
Marijuana Anonymous offices. Call information and ask for their central
offices. You can also contact me. Just click on my name, below.
*About The Author*
Wittman, M.P.S. has his masters degree in counseling psychology from
Cornell University. He has over thirty-six years of counseling and coaching experience
and is certified as a clinical hypnotherapist and as a practitioner of
Neuro-Linguistic Programming. He is currently the Executive Director of
LA Youth Supportive Services, Inc.